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Oregon Council Member Fired by his Governor

by Bill Rudolph
NW Fishletter, August 6, 2002

Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber has removed eastern Oregon rancher John Brogoitti from the Northwest Power Planning Council. In an Aug. 5 letter to Brogoitti, Kitzhaber said he had lost confidence in his representative "to carry out the policy objectives of my Administration." Brogoitti told NW Fishletter that he will request a public hearing to respond to the governor's reasons for his removal.

Brogoitti said that Gov. Kitzhaber offered him a deal last Friday. "He wanted a letter of apology and resignation, and then he'd give me all kinds of accolades," said the frustrated Council member.

The letter from Gov. Kitzhaber came after Brogoitti sent a second statement to several newspapers that re-iterated the message of his July 29 press release that suggested Kitzhaber was still trying to replace the Council with a new governing body. According to the July 29 press release, Brogoitti concluded his governor's position--that Oregon was unfairly passed over for the council's chairmanship this year "possibly because of its overtly environmental policies"--was "a red herring to divert attention from an entirely different agenda."

In his latest remarks, Brogoitti said his governor's dissatisfaction with the council's process for election of its chair was "a smoke screen behind which he intended to revive the Three Sovereigns concept to replace the Power Council." He said Gov. Kitzhaber was using "false accusations of discrimination" to try and garner support from the state legislature to pull Oregon from the council. "Few will understand how it saddened me to speak out publicly against a man I respected and thought of as a friend," Brogoitti said, adding that he can't be fired for representing the geographic area he was appointed to represent.

A Question of Priorities
The Oregon Power Council representative said his governor's priorities are wrong, mentioning the specter of the 9/11 terrorist attack in New York. Criticizing what he termed Kitzhaber's "totally green agenda," Brogoitti said "agriculture and industry must come first if we are going to survive. When we secure our land from terrorism, then we have something to steward."

"No one else wants to be the one to say it because it isn't politically correct, but if it ever comes down to a choice between a suckerfish and one of my grandchildren, I am going with the kid," he said, alluding to the water and fish dispute in the Klamath Basin.

The final meltdown between Brogoitti and his governor came after the council amended its bylaws in January to elect Washington member Larry Cassidy to a third term as chair. Kitzhaber then sent letters to other Northwest governors trying to gain support for a mandatory rotation of the chairmanship But the governors reported back that they were satisfied with the status quo, which gave council members the ability to vote for the strongest leader. Oregon then suggested it might leave the council if it didn't get the chairmanship.

During last month's Power Council meeting in Yakima, WA, council members decided to settle the rotation issue and voted 6-2 against a motion by Brogoitti to table a vote on the issue.

Brogoitti's heart apparently wasn't in the fight. "I'm tired of being a lackey for the governor," Brogoitti told NW Fishletter last week, a remark he made to other reporters last week as well.

Kitzhaber's office was quick to respond. "We can relieve him of that burden," said Kitzhaber spokesman Tom Towslee. "God only knows what Mr. Brogoitti is thinking, in this outburst of his." Towslee said Brogoitti's July 29 remarks were totally unexpected. "We heard about them from a reporter," he said. Brogoitti was asked to resign. He refused.

After a recent meeting with Kitzhaber and fellow Oregon council member Erich Bloch, Brogoitti said he had offered to seek election to the council chair himself. According to Brogoitti's press release, the governor "rebuffed him, stating that 'the chairmanship is not the issue.'" Brogoitti said he had advised the governor twice in the past six months that Bloch, who had been the council's vice chair last year, hadn't been considered for the chairmanship because of personality conflicts, not "state-related issues."

If the chairmanship isn't the issue, Brogoitti speculated in his press release, Kitzhaber may be trying to make another push to shelve the council and revive a process like the defunct Three Sovereigns, also known as the Columbia River Forum, which attempted to develop a new form of governance for the basin in which states, federal agencies and tribal governments would share decision-making over power, fish and wildlife decisions. The process died after months of meetings failed to coordinate efforts of tribal representatives, federal agencies and state policy makers. By then, other stakeholders--mainly power and water users led by state legislators--sided against the process, which likely would have taken authority away from them and wreaked havoc with state-issued water rights.

"Brogoitti sees great danger in this and is taking action to alert local situations of the issue," said his press release. He told NW Fishletter that he didn't know what else to suspect the governor was up to.

Kitzhaber spokesman Towslee admitted the Oregon governor is still interested in alternatives to the council process that would put fish and wildlife issues on an equal footing with power concerns, even though he was "still pretty much by himself."

According to an article published on the Oregon Public Broadcasting Web site, Kitzhaber advisor Louise Solliday said the governor hadn't approached the Oregon delegation with a proposal yet, but that it wasn't out of the question. Brogoitti mentioned the article in his own press release.

Basin tribes said they hadn't heard of any recent push to dump the council. "We are in regular contact with the governor's office here in Oregon," said Charles Hudson, spokesman for the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, "but we have not discussed any return to the Three Sovereigns process."

Hudson said the tribes weren't going to get involved in the dispute between Kitzhaber and Brogoitti, but he suggested that the governor consider Umatilla tribal leader Antone Minthorn as a new council member. "It would be hard for us to think of a better choice," Hudson said.

With important council votes likely coming in September over mainstem amendments to the council's fish and wildlife plan, Brogoitti said he hopes he can "hang on until those amendments come through." Montana and Idaho members are expected to offer recommendations that would conflict with current hydro operations, but offer more flexibility, they say. Some of the recommendations may be available for discussion by next month's meeting in Helena.

"I'm not going out with my head down," Brogoitti said. Gov. Kitzhaber "can't fire me without just cause." Other than exercising his First Amendment right, Brogoitti said he doesn't know what he's done wrong. He said he didn't want to see farmers, river users and processors "beaten up on" any more than they already have been by the economic downturn.

The Oregon council member said he had been cut off from Kitzhaber's office "a lot" and pointed to his split with the governor over dam breaching on the lower Snake River as an issue that pushed them apart. "It's frustrating to me to have a governor who says he's for all of Oregon when it's obvious he's not," Brogoitti said.

In a major address just last April before the American Fisheries Society, Kitzhaber raised the dam breaching issue again. He said costs of non-breach strategies were similar to or greater than those of taking out the four dams. "Some will say it is too controversial. I say, what isn't?" said Kitzhaber at the time. "Who here thinks that it is not controversial to cut harvest levels? To change agricultural and timber practices on private land or to significantly augment flows?"

Much of Kitzhaber's April speech was reportedly written by Oregon's other council member, Eric Bloch. Bloch himself has stumped hard for more flows and spill for fish, especially during last year's drought, when most other council members, including Brogoitti were focused on maintaining a reliable power supply for the Northwest.

But Oregon's two members have been at odds for some time. In testimony he gave to a Senate committee in September 2000, Bloch said Oregon saw scientific merit in more flow augmentation and spill for the hydro system, and suggested the region purchase 2 MAF from Canada to aid fish migrations. He also called for more study of drawdown at John Day Pool and other major reservoirs in the system.

The Grey Area
Whether Brogoitti can still serve and vote until a public hearing is concluded is a "gray area" of state law, say several attorneys familiar with the situation. They feel that Brogoitti would no longer be a council member after receiving the letter. The Oregon Attorney General's office was still trying to sort out the situation last week.

Towslee admitted that it may be difficult for Kitzhaber to replace Brogoitti before he leaves office next January, since the Republican-controlled Oregon Senate must confirm any appointee. But he also said Oregon's having a vacant seat didn't seem to be a pressing problem for the council, since it could conduct its affairs pretty much the same way whether the state had one vote or two, as Oregon has had a diminished role in council affairs anyway.

Meanwhile, Brogoitti, a conservative Democrat, wasn't giving up. He was considering changing parties "in order to garner the support necessary to stay on the council and counter any efforts to convince Congress to change the current system of balancing power generation with fish and wildlife issues in the Pacific Northwest."

Before his latest remarks were sent to several regional newspapers, Brogoitti had garnered support last week from the Vancouver Columbian and the Pendleton East Oregonian. Rob Walton, assistant director of the Public Power Council said he didn't know what happened between Brogoitti and his governor, but his group's charge includes representing both agricultural interests and Bonneville ratepayers. "We are glad to know those interest are protected. Industry needs to stand by and thank him for his loyalty."

Brogoitti said he plans on attending the Power Planning Council meeting in Helena, Montana next week as a participating member of the four-state compact. -B. R.

Bill Rudolph
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